Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The problem with the NBA

It has to be said: this is the most predictable/least competitive NBA playoffs ever.

The Cavs-Warriors trilogy was preordained the moment KD joined Golden State in July 2016. The bookies knew it. The league knew it. Objective fans knew it. The only people who would say otherwise are (1) the media—it’s their job to keep the season interesting; and (2) legacy-conscious fans of LeBron or the Dubs—they wouldn’t be historically great if they keep playing the Washington Generals, eh? Between them, the two teams have 7 of the 30 best players in the NBA today,[1] each of whom made the All-Star team this year. No other team has more than two. If you’re keeping count, the Warriors have 4 of the 7, so naturally, LeBron wanted another all-star. Unfortunately, he had to settle for former all-stars Kyle Korver and Deron Williams. Needless to say, the King wasn’t pleased.

It’s not yet the last week of May[2] and we’re almost there. We are getting the rubber match… that we knew we’d get for almost a year. Yay…??? For non-LeBronites and non-GSW-bandwagoners, sorry, but you just wasted your time watching 82 games and three playoff rounds. This is the product the NBA is selling, and it’s more predictable than WWE’s storyline. The predictability stemming from the lack of competitiveness is highlighted by the teams’ playoff records: Golden State is 12-0, Cleveland is 10-1. To be fair, Cleveland made it interesting during the regular season by finishing second to Boston in the East. But nobody seriously believed that the Celtics are the better team. Actually, I don’t know what to make of the Cavs, with their three all-stars, in a weaker conference, not even coming close to 65 wins. If MJ played with two other all-stars… I’m sorry, I digress.

Special shout-out to the Spurs, the second-best team in the league which had the unenviable luck of playing in the same conference as the video-game-cheat-code Warriors. They looked like they had a puncher’s chance of making the the Dubs sweat… until Kawhi’s ankle got Zaza’d. But would have they won the series at full strength? I think not, and Vegas agrees.

Boston fans hope that LeBron gets Olynyk’d, except that LeBron doesn’t get injured, he just gets cramps. Marcus Smart will not hit seven threes again, Avery Bradley will not get the same lucky bounce, and I haven’t even mentioned that the Celtics are already without their best player for whatever remains of this short series. Besides, they already won the draft lottery, so imagine how much more insufferable Celtics fans can get if they actually pull off the upset.[3]

Predictability and lack of competitiveness make sports dull and uninteresting. And I don’t mean it from an aesthetic point-of-view. The Warriors can be fun to watch, but basketball isn’t performance art. It’s not theater, it’s a sport. Where’s the thrill in regularly watching a 20-point beatdown in the playoffs?[4] The essence of sport is competition. You take away the competitive aspect and you’re watching something entirely different: professional entertainment. I outgrew wrestling 15 years ago, and the NBA is sadly headed in that direction.

The worst part is that the league might not be able to do anything about it. How do you change the mindset of the current generation of players who value winning easy rather than winning on equal terms? When the media normalizes such behavior, what can you do? KD has an idea: “If you don't like it, don't watch it.” He’s right, of course. That’s exactly what I’ve done all season. I haven’t watched a full game since the Warriors-Spurs on opening night—almost exactly 7 months ago.

Thank God for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Go Pens!

[1] 2016 ESPN #NBArank: 1. LeBron 2. Curry 3. KD 14. Draymond 15. Kyrie 16. Klay 28. Love

[2] I don’t remember the Finals being set before the last week of May ever.

[3] I actually don’t mind. But it's​not gonna happen.

[4] Those who enjoy these games might genuinely be sadists.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

LeBron's obsession: The public's perception of his legacy

LeBron recently went after Charles Barkley a week after Chuck (and Kenny) called out LeBron for being whiny. Mainstream sports media has come to LeBron's defense, with the most ridiculous being this piece from The Ringer. (I really should unfollow that site. Bill Simmons has lost his edge. Everybody there is a conformist.)

LeBron made it personal. But he was unresponsive to the criticism. He cited facts about Chuck, but they're irrelevant to what Chuck said. Ad hominem. Chuck wasn't talking about LeBron not being a good role model. He said that LeBron doesn't want to compete. It should be obvious that LeBron's response is all about trying to control the public perception of his legacy (he's like the Donald and his alternative facts that way). "I'm not going to let him disrespect my legacy like that." Let's get this legacy thing right by doing some quick fact checks:

In 2010, LeBron started the whole superteam trend by joining Wade and Bosh--despite the Cavs being the #1 seed in the East the 2 previous years. And let's dispel the notion that Wade was no longer in his prime in 2010. Wade was 1st Team All-NBA in 2010, finished in the top 5 of the MVP voting, and was just a season removed from putting up 30-7.5-5.

After the Heat was blown away by the Spurs in 2014, LeBron left bad-knees-Wade and zombie Bosh for a pair of younger all-stars in Irving and Love. Everybody bought the homecoming narrative, but the simple truth is that LeBron knew it would be difficult to win another title in Miami after the Spurs humiliated them in 2014 (the Spurs beat the Heat by 14 points per game; in the four Spurs wins, they outscored Miami by 72 points). And make no mistake, the Love deal was already in place before he signed--that's why he never mentioned Andrew Wiggins in his essay.

Now, just weeks after the Cavs acquired Korver, LeBron's complaining to the media about needing more pieces. Despite being the defending champions whose core remained intact. Despite still having two all-star teammates. Despite being 4 games clear in the loss column in the East. Why? Is he so afraid of the Warriors? The Spurs retooled on the fly and, despite having just one all-star, are the second best team in the league. So it's certainly not just about getting all the superstars. Except that, to LeBron, it is.

The only reasonable conclusion is that LeBron wants the easiest way to winning his rings. He's the guy who plays a video game at the easiest setting just so he can boast that he beat the game. Don't get me wrong, LeBron's a very good basketball player. What he did in last year's finals was truly amazing. And I'm sure he wants to win. I guess there is a minimum level of competitive spirit required in order to have that desire. But what Chuck is talking about is taking it upon yourself to overcome the challenges with the team that you have; see how far your skills can take you. No ifs and buts. That's what LeBron lacks. And we've seen enough of his career to know that to be true. So when we talk about legacy, just remember that LeBron always took the easiest route.

Monday, March 4, 2013


The Lakers are going to make the playoffs. How could we have ever doubted that? Them making the playoffs is a foregone conclusion much like their 2002 WCF victory against the Kings was. Their win today against Atlanta was a statement game. And the statement was: they will not lose in close games. Or rather, the refs will not allow them to lose in close games. I saw it in the game against Portland the other week, too. So while Laker fans irrationally chant "M-V-P" for Kobe and his borderline-legal German-treated knees, I looked up the TV ratings the last time the Lakers missed the playoffs in '06. Unsurprisingly, it was the third-lowest since 1982.

The NBA. Where home-cooking happens.

Monday, February 18, 2013

On Jordan's 50th, LeBron's streak, and the GOAT

This is a response to people playing up the LeBron-Jordan comparison following LeBron's much ballyhooed 6-game 30+ points on 60% shooting streak--something I didn't even know people kept track of--which coincidentally overlapped with the week of Jordan's 50th birthday:

How quickly do people, most especially the media, forget? Just a couple of years ago, LeBron got swept in the Finals. We say, fine, that's cool; after all, he was up against the 3-time champion, the great Tim Duncan's San Antonio Spurs. Then he never makes it to the NBA Finals in the next 3 years. He quit in the second half of Game 6 against Orlando in '09. He quit in the entire '10 series against Boston. Then he basically said, screw it, I need to play with my rival/buddy D-Wade to win one. He got his wish and made it to the Finals in '11. In Game 4, with Miami up 2-1 in the series and leading by 9 in the 4th, LeBron, well, LeChoked . Finally, he won a title last year against a talented yet inexperienced Thunder team. (Some people, myself included, think that the result would've been different had the Heat faced the Spurs.) And now people are comparing him to Mike. Really? Did those things never happen? Shouldn't we judge the GOAT based on his whole body of work? 

Mike didn't win his first title until his 7th season, true that. But he never quit in any of those playoffs losses either. He never said, "I'm sick of losing in Chicago, I want to play with Barkley or Hakeem." He worked his ass off during off-seasons, challenged teammates in practices, competed night-in and night-out, made adjustments to his game to fit the triangle system, until it all paid off. He built the team from the ground up. The whole Bulls dynasty was basically the house that Michael Jordan built. And at his peak, Mike was the closest thing we'll ever get to "unbeatable," nay, "invincible."

LeBron, without a doubt, is the greatest talent to have graced the basketball court since Mike. He had all the physical tools and the basketball IQ to be like Mike. MJ is probably the best athlete--he was built like Usain Bolt--but LeBron is a freak of nature. Body of a running back with hops like Shawn Kemp circa 1994. All the hype prior to LeBron's arrival in the NBA was well-deserved. But greatness is not just about talent. It's about competing. And when LeBron took his talents to Wade's house/Bosh's pit, he threw away his chance at being the GOAT. You can't have your cake and eat it, too. Even in the midst of his great run, LeBron never exuded the aura of unbeatable-ness. He might be unstoppable, un-guardable, or what have you, but unbeatable he is not. Despite all the talent in his team, the Heat only have the 3rd best record in the league while playing in an inferior conference. Plug in Bosh and Allen to any of Jordan's teams and they would've been pushing 70 wins. It goes back to LeBron's non-competitive nature. He makes the right basketball plays but he is not obsessed with winning the way MJ and Bill Russell were. As further proof: why do you think LeBron refuses to participate in the dunk contest?

To me, LeBron's ceiling is Wilt, depending on the number of titles he wins. Probably Kareem, too, if he plays long enough and wins as many titles. But unless he averages a triple-double or leads the league in both scoring and assists or wins at least 5 more Finals MVPs, he'll never touch Jordan's rarefied air. Maybe not even Magic and Bird's.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Why Tim Duncan is better than Kobe Bryant (UPDATED v3.0)

Since I’ve got some free time before I go into hermit-mode for the bar review come May, I figured I might as well do something productive. If you count agitating Kobephiles productive, that is. I’ve had this idea for about 3 years now; but as is everything with me, ideas take time to become reality. This was supposed to be my final entry in our ICT blog but I just didn’t have the time as the sem was winding down. (And thank God I didn’t, after I got screwed by the ICT profs—this video and this 4-page exam did not merit a 2.0 dammit! Anyway, it just wouldn’t have been worth it.)

So here’s my hypothesis: Tim Duncan is better than Kobe Bryant.

Now, I’m sure some people are already cursing me right now, accusing me that I don’t know anything about basketball. If you’re one of ‘em, then I really don’t give a rat’s arse what you think. If you’re at least open-minded, then read on. Around a month ago, Kobe was blabbering about how he didn’t have any rivals during his career. To a certain extent, I guess that’s true. If rivalry means going head-to-head with someone in the same position—like Wilt & Bill, Magic & Larry—then I concede that he didn’t. But when you talk about greatness per se, then Kobe was just being his usual arrogant self. Kobe isn’t the greatest post-Jordan superstar; Tim Duncan is.

So how do I go about measuring who is better? It’s quite a simple thought experiment, really: if you are a GM and your goal is to win as many NBA championships as possible, who would you pick, all things being equal?

Before proceeding to the merits of my case, I just have to make a couple of concessions. First, Kobe is a better scorer. In fact, Kobe might be one of the best offensive machines of all-time, perhaps next only to MJ and Wilt. But being a better scorer does not make one a better player. It just so happened that the greatest player of all-time is also the best scorer of all-time. If you insist talking about scoring alone, then you know nothing about basketball.

Second, Kobe has had a better career, longevity-wise. Kobe has played in 16 seasons, 13 at an elite level. Timmy has 15 seasons under his belt, with 13 elite. But Kobe is 2 years younger than Timmy, and given his (Kobe’s) motivation to go after Kareem’s career scoring record, he’ll probably continue to play at a high level for 2 more years. Timmy, on the other hand, is already at the tail end of his career and while still effective, no longer the dominant force he once was.[1] Despite the way I feel about Kobe, I gotta tip my hat off to his desire and hard work… even if I could hear him counting his career points every time he touches the ball.

So now let me break it down for you:

1. Kobe’s 5 rings is NOT worth more than Timmy’s 4
Some people will probably say, “Well, Kobe has 5 rings compared Timmy’s 4, so that’s ballgame right there.” Not quite. See, what we are measuring here is the number of championships a player can win as their team’s alpha dog. And who was the best player during the Lakers’ three-peat? Shaq Daddy. Sure, Kobe was already a superstar then. But those Lakers teams wouldn’t have won the championship without the Diesel. Not a chance. That’s a fact. Meanwhile, TD has been the best player in all 4 of the Spurs’ championship runs. Yes, including that one in 2007, when voters inexplicably handed the award to Tony Parker. Therefore, Timmy has won 4 titles as the team’s best player, while Kobe only has 2. Even if I’m generous and give half-Larry O’Brien trophies to Kobe during the times he played Robin to Shaq’s Batman, he will still trail Timmy 3 ½ to 4. Now, that's ballgame. But I'll indulge you some more.

2. Kobe had better teammates

Corollary to #1 is the fact that Kobe has had the luck of having an elite teammate during all the Lakers’ championship runs. History tells us that a team with 2 elite players has a better chance of winning the title. Jordan and Pippen. Shaq and Kobe. Magic and Kareem. Bird and McHale. Dr. J and Moses. I’ve already mentioned that Shaq, when he was wrecking havoc as the league’s most dominant center, basically gifted Kobe his first three rings. So how about in '09 and '10? Well, Kobe had Pau. Now, Laker fans don’t like Pau too much these days. But the truth is that during their last 2 championship runs, Pau was one of the top two centers in the league—and arguably the most offensively polished. He was All-NBA during those 2 championship seasons and is likely to go down as the second-best European player of all-time behind Dirk. While definitely not at Shaq’s level, he was nonetheless elite during those 2 years.

Compare this to who Duncan had. In 1999, he had a past-his-prime David Robinson. In 2003, he had a way-past-his-prime Admiral, with Tony and Manu still getting their feet wet. That ’03 title is of particular historical importance because: 1) since the turn of the millennium, there have been only 2 one-man teams to win the championship: Duncan’s ’03 team and Dirk’s Mavs last year; and 2) it was the most dominant Finals performance by a superstar since MJ left Chicago. Kobe can never touch that—which places him in a sort of conundrum: Kobe loves playing as if he was a one-man team, yet he cannot win the title as a one-man team.

It gets a little tricky in ’05 and ’07. Tony and Manu were already All-Star caliber during those years. While I love Manu (Tony? Not so much after the messing with me main man Brent Barry and breaking Eva Longoria’s heart), they were never really elite. They have 3 All-NBAs between them, which is equivalent to Pau’s career total. Notably, however, they didn’t make it during those 2 title runs. Neither Tony nor Manu were among the 5 best players in their respective positions from ’05 to ’07—or at any point of their careers for that matter. During that 3-year span, the top 5 point guards in the league were (in some order): Nash, Paul, Deron, Billups, and Kidd. In the shooting guard position it’s: Kobe, Wade, Arenas, McGrady, and Iverson. So while Kobe played with another superstar, Timmy played with 2 All-Stars. When it comes to winning championships, history says that Kobe had the advantage.

3. TD will win you more games

We’ve reached a point where we have to go to stats to prove my point. Rhetoric is good, but without stats to back them up, it won’t really count for much, wuddit? During the Tim Duncan era, the Spurs have never won fewer than 50 games during the regular season (except in the 1998 lockout season) and have never missed the NBA playoffs. Kobe’s Lakers? Well, they missed the playoffs in 2005, right after Kobe drove Shaq out of town, and were mediocre in 2006 and 2007. Since TD became a Spur, the franchise’s regular season winning percentage is 0.701 while Kobe’s Lakers posted a 0.659 mark.

Advanced metrics support the conclusion that TD is indeed a better winner. Timmy’s Wins Produced (a model for estimating individual player contribution to winning) during his elite seasons is way higher thank Kobe’s (255.9 to 158.6). To put things into perspective, MJ’s is 265.6.[2] In terms of Wins Produced per 48 minutes, TD is a full tenth ahead of Kobe (0.315 vs. 0.215). In fact, Kobe’s WP48 of below 0.300 is not enough to accord him superstar status. What this all means is that you’ll win more games with TD as your star player. And lest we forget, basketball is all about winning.

4. The Black Mamba is not more clutch than the Big Fundamental

Perhaps the biggest fallacy of all-time is that Kobe is his generation’s best closer. He is not. The thing is, he takes too many shots that people only remember the ones he make—forgetting the tons of misses in the process. For this purpose, let us use the clutch +/- (4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points ) as our gauge because it reflects how much their respective teams outscored the opponents with either superstar on the floor. This is a better measure than merely looking at points scored because it gives us the overall picture of the player’s effect on the team, both on the offensive and defensive end. Since 2003, the earliest year available, Timmy’s clutch +/- of +6.4 is slightly better than Kobe’s (+6.3). Looking at the adjusted +/- since 2007, Duncan leads Kobe (16.8 to 16.6)—this despite Duncan already reaching the tail end of his career. (Note that these “clutch” +/- stats are only available from 2003 onwards, thus failing to account for Timmy’s 2 MVP seasons.)

Even if we talk about clutch shots from 2000-01 through last season (thanks to basketball-reference.com), which I define as 30 seconds or less, one possession (down 3 or up 3) game, Duncan’s FG% is significantly higher (40.2%, 37-for-92) than Kobe’s (32%, 76-for-237). Yes, you read that right, two hundred thirty seven attempts!!! That's almost 20 attempts per season! You've gotta marvel at the courage, but you have to question his decision-making. He's playing hero ball, not basketball. Just so you know how outrageous his attempts are, other recognized clutch players average less than 15 attempts per season: Chris Paul (11.7), Melo (9.2), Wade (12.3), and, MJ (9.5, in 2 seasons in Washington; I just had to). Kobe averaged better than 40% only once during the 12-year span; Timmy did it 7 times (granted, of course, that his attempts were more modest). Comparing the years with the most makes, Timmy went 8-for-19 in '03-04, while Kobe hit 10-of-25 in '09-10. Which begs the question, would you really rather have Kobe taking the last shot? Based on the stats, the answer would be, and should be, no.

Lost in many basketball fans' obsession in game-winning heroics are defensive plays that seal wins or give teams chances to win. Game-saving blocks and game-saving steals--or just plainly "game-savers," if you will. Using the same criteria as above (30 seconds or less, +/-3 points), Timmy once again has the upper hand. Since the 2000-01 season through '11-12 , he's had 8 such game-savers (all blocks), while Kobe has 7 (4 steals and 3 blocks). However, the close margin is more apparent than real. The "clutch" definition I have been using is deceptive when applied to defensive stats, because making blocks or steals is not as simple as taking shots (just think about it, I don't think I know of anyone who has averaged 5 blocks or 5 steals per game for an entire season). Ergo, the sample might be too narrow. If we expand it a bit--to less than 3 minutes of a 5-point ballgame--the difference is much more glaring. TD has 69 (52 blocks and 17 steals); Kobe has 50 (31 steals and 19 blocks). Again, you have to look at basketball games as a total package. Any basketball fan worth his salt knows that in close games, denying the opponent a chance to score is as important as making shots.

Another key stat is turnovers in game-winning situations. Since a turnover basically deprives the team a chance of winning or gives the opponent an opportunity to steal the win, you could put it along side game-winners and game-savers as an important clutch indicator. Reverting to my original definition of clutch, Kobe has 18 clutch turnovers since 2000 through last season. Duncan has 11. In other words, Kobe is more likely to cost his team the game than Timmy. Wouldn't want that from your "closer," no?

5. Tim Duncan is more efficient
Perhaps the holy grail of advanced metrics is Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER). Comparing the greatest power forward of all-time with the second best shooting guard of all-time, the former once again outperforms the latter.

Duncan’s career PER of 24.7 includes 5 seasons of PER above 25.0. Kobe, on the other hand, holds a career of 23.5 with only 3 seasons above 25.0. Comparing their stats to the gold standard, MJ:

Career PER: 27.9
12 seasons over 25.0
4 above 30.0.

I love this stat because it destroys the preconceived correlation between scoring and greatness. As I've said earlier, it just so happened that MJ scored a lot of points. What people should really be looking at is the PER. Expectedly, MJ is number 1. Duncan’s career PER ranks 9th all-time, ten spots above Kobe.

6. Timmy is a better defender

Timmy is the only player to be named to both the All-NBA and All-Defense teams in each of his first 13 seasons. Kobe has been named All-Defense 11 times but the difference is actually wider than it appears on paper. Timmy had the capacity to alter the opposing team’s offense because of his intimidating presence in the paint. He was an elite on- and off-ball defender and was the defensive anchor of all of the Spurs’ title runs. From 2004-2007, Timmy led the league in defensive rating. During his first 10 years in the league, he was never below 4th in that category. And as they say, defense wins championships. While Kobe is an excellent one-on-one defender, you can’t really say his impact on the defensive end is at par with TD.

7. Timmy is “more valuable”

Another stat that matters: MVPs – Timmy 2, Kobe 1. It cannot be denied that the NBA MVP is the most important individual accolade in the league—perhaps even in all four major American leagues (i.e., NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLB). Considering that they were near-contemporaries (TD peaked 3 years ahead of Kobe), the fact that Timmy won one more MVP trophy than Kobe is quite telling. Actually, it says more about Kobe than anything else. If he was so great, then why didn’t he win more? If he is truly unrivalled as he claims, then why only one MVP? Surely, voter fatigue was not a factor as it was with MJ. Couldn’t have been due to popularity either; after all, Kobe has sold way more jerseys than Timmy. What this means is that, despite Kobe’s view of himself, sportswriters never really regarded him as the best of his generation. In fact, even if we consider second-place finishes in the MVP race, the difference would be wider. Timmy finished 2nd in ’01 and ’04, while Kobe finished 2nd in ’09. That would be 4 top-2 finishes in the MVP ballots for TD and only 2 for Kobe.

Unsurprisingly, several publications/blogs (Sports Illustrated, Ball Don’t Lie’s Kelly Dwyer, ESPN’s John Hollinger, The Huffington Post’s Tom Ziller, among others) named Duncan as the player of the decade.

8. Timmy is a better teammate

Locker room dynamics is particularly important in professional sports. In the NBA, a team plays 82 games over the course of 5 months—which is why you need your players to get along on and off the court. A dysfunctional team never wins a championship. This is another reason why, as a GM, you’d rather have Timmy on your team.

Try Googling for something damning that Timmy said about his teammates or vice-versa and you’ll find none. The only thing you’ll likely find is his feud with Joey Crawford. In fact, past and present teammates have nothing but praises for TD. He was happy for TP when the latter was named the ’07 Finals MVP—just imagine the look on Kobe’s face had Pau won the 2010 Finals MVP. He once called Stephen Jackson the “ultimate teammate”; but really, it is Timmy who is the ultimate teammate—on and off the court. As Popovich notes, Duncan is “that easy to play with, and his skills are so fundamentally sound that other people can fit in.”

Can’t say the same thing about Kobe, though. His clashes with Shaq were well-chronicled. Most notable was when Kobe threw Shaq under the bus after the Colorado incident. Yes, that Colorado incident. (Hey, I’m not even attacking Kobe for that rape-that-wasn’t.) Even the great Phil Jackson labelled Kobe as “uncoachable” in his book. Kobe publicly dissed Bynum and the Lakers organization when things weren’t going well in ’07. And he bitches his teammates when they don’t get him the ball.

This quote from Brian Shaw, Kobe’s teammate from 1999-2003, after the Colorado incident is particularly enlightening: “Shaq had all these parties and you (Kobe) never showed up for any of them. We invited you to dinner on the road and you didn’t come. Shaq invited you to his wedding and you weren’t there. Then you got married and didn’t invite any of us. And now you are in the middle of this problem, this sensitive situation, and now you want all of us to step up for you. We don’t even know you.” No wonder he didn’t get the Lakers coaching gig.

9. What Ifs

Hypothetically, TD could have won at least 6 titles. In 2004, the Spurs would have repeated as champions had the game clock properly run in Derek Fisher’s 0.4 second shot that shouldn’t have counted. When you look at the replay, don’t look at whether he got it off on time because he did. But the clock didn’t immediately run the moment he caught the ball, which gave him around 0.2 more to release it. Pay attention to how he caught the ball in mid-air before landing on both his feet. The clock should’ve started to run by then. Instead, it ran only when he had both his feet set.

In 2006, Manu committed a stupid foul on Dirk in the dying seconds of Game 7 of the West Semis (the de facto Finals) with the Spurs up by 3. It was a foul, no doubt. But what if the refs let them play? I mean, it was playoff basketball after all. Surely, the Spurs would not have choked in the Finals against the Heat. The Spurs were much closer to the cusp of a rare 5-peat than people think. You can also throw in a couple of injury “what ifs.” What if Manu was 100% in ‘08 against the Lakers? What if Tony wasn’t injured in ’10 against the Suns?

Meanwhile, the “what if” game would cost Kobe at least 2 titles. In 2002, what if Lakers-Kings series wasn’t rigged? Oh, David Stern says it wasn’t. Wait, it wasn’t?! Well, at least what if the refs properly called a flagrant-1 on Kobe for his elbow on Bibby in the dying seconds of Game 6? Peja would’ve knocked down both technical free throws and the Kings would have clinched the series. Then in 2010, what if Perkins wasn’t injured in Games 6 and 7? The Celts were badly outrebounded in both of those games (52-39 in G6, 53-40 in G7), both losses. In their 3 wins, Boston won the battle of the boards. Certainly, Perkins’ presence would have altered any one of those games.

What this exercise is meant to illustrate is that with Tim Duncan, a franchise is guaranteed at least 4 titles. Four titles without controversy. With some luck, you could ride him for 6 or 7. If you pair Shaq and Kobe, you’re guaranteed at least 2... before the situation self-combusts. But with Kobe alone, you’re really guaranteed only 1.

In an alternate universe, these what ifs probably happened, and the me in that universe would not even bother writing this stuff. Cos in that universe, Timmy’s got 6 titles while Kobe’s got 3, and the entire argument would be plainly stupid.

10. Timmy performs better during the playoffs

In the end, it all comes down to this. You want to win titles? You need a superstar that rises up to the occasion.[3] Plain and simple. Here are Kobe and Timmy’s postseason stats:

TD: 22.7ppg 12.4rpg 3.4apg 50.2%FG PER: 25.4
Kobe: 25.4ppg 5.1rpg 4.8apg 44.8%FG PER: 22.3

It’s much closer than you thought, right? Considering that Kobe is supposed to be a much better scorer, Timmy is surprisingly within 3 points per game of Kobe. What I’d really like to point out is the PERs. Timmy’s postseason PER is higher than his regular season rating, while Kobe’s postseason PER is lower. This means that Timmy raises his game in the postseason, while Kobe slightly regresses. And just to drive home the point, TD has four career playoff triple-doubles. Kobe? Zilch.

Let’s narrow it down to Finals performance:

TD: 22.7ppg 14.4rpg 3.4apg 47.2%FG Finals MVP: 3
Kobe: 24.7ppg 5.5rpg 4.9 apg 40.7%FG Finals MVP: 2

While TD maintains the same offensive output, his rebounds per game average increases by 2. On the other hand, Kobe averages fewer points per game with marginal increases in the rebounding and assist departments. Although each suffer a dip in shooting percentage, Kobe’s 40.7% clip is downright woeful for a superstar. Unsurprisingly, Kobe only has 2 Finals MVPs in his 7 Finals appearances.

In Hollinger’s 50 greatest Finals performances (series), all of Timmy’s NBA Finals appearances make it to the list. His 2003 decimation of the Nets is ranked as the 3rd best all-time. His other entries are: #11 (’99), #41 (’07), and #45 (’05). Kobe only had 2 in the list: #15 (‘09) and #24 (’10). In terms of the best single-game Finals performances, Kobe only has 2 games in the top 50: Game 1 of the 2009 Finals (#13) and Game 5 of that same series (#49). On the other hand, TD has four: Game 1 ’03 (#6), Game 1 ’99 (#32), Game 5 ’03 (#35), and Game 1 ’07 (#45).

When we talk about winning percentage, Timmy is 4-0 in his Finals appearance with a 0.727 winning percentage in all of his Finals games. Kobe is 5-2 in the Finals, with a 0.605 winning percentage in all Finals games played.

Yet even if we disregard the numbers, we will still reach the same conclusion. Kobe’s most memorable playoff moment is his alley-oop to Shaq in 2000 against Portland (my favorite team at the time)—quite ironic, considering how Kobe hates passing and how he would drive Shaq out of LA several years later. Perhaps his most memorable Finals moment was when he scored 23 straight points against Boston in Game 5 of 2010—which was ultimately meaningless because they went on to lose the game. His other memorable moment: the 6-for-24 stink bomb in Game 7(!) of the series against the Celts.

Meanwhile, the great Tim Duncan owns one of the all-time legendary NBA Finals performance: his “two blocks shy of a quadruple-double” game in the clincher against the Nets (’03). His 24-point second half in the opener against the Nets (#6 in Hollinger’s list) is constantly replayed in the NBA’s Greatest Games.

11. The Tensai's Rating

Finally, allow me to use the system I’ve devised to measure who is the better player.
Here are the criteria:

- NBA MVP awards won (5 points each)
- NBA Finals MVP awards (5 points each)
- NBA championships won (3 points each)
- All-Star Games selected to play in (1 point each)
- All-NBA first-team selections (2 points each)
- All-NBA second-team selections (1.5 points each)
- All-NBA third team selections (1 point each)
- All-defensive first-team (1.5 points each)
- All-defensive second-team (1 point each)
- All-Star MVP awards (1 point each)
- Rookie of the Year (1 point each)
- Individual statistical titles (2 points each) — restricted to a) basic stats (per game averages): points, rebounds, assists, and field goal percentage; and b) advanced stats: offensive rating, defensive rating and PER.
- Career playoff averages (2 points each) — for each category the player leads over the other (see above for restrictions)

The weighted results—

TD: 106.5
Kobe: 96.5
Winner: Tim Duncan

The inevitable conclusion is that Timmy is the better player. Yes, Kobe scores more points. Yes, Kobe could be spectacular to watch. Yes, Kobe sells more shoes and jerseys. Yes, Timmy is boring. But it doesn’t matter. Basketball is a team sport. Basketball is about winning. And if you’re a GM, the logical choice would be to pick Tim Duncan. Even more so if your life depended on it.


[1] But he is not washed up, dammit. After the Spurs got drubbed by LA a couple of days ago, I heard this stupid DJ claiming that TD is way over the hill. He is not. He isn’t Ewing playing for the Raptors or Hakeem with the Sonics or the 2003 David Robinson. The Spurs’ next game? Timmy drops 28 in a win against the surging Grizzlies.
[2] This is why the MJ-Kobe argument is utterly comical and foolish.
[3] Did someone say LeBron? (awkward silence)


**See also:

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thoughts on NBA Opening Night

The Lakers are overrated

0-2, baby!!! I couldn't quite understand why Laker fanboys were celebrating the Harden trade like they just won the Western Conference title. For a team that went 0-8 in the pre-season--which basically means they have not won a single game since their summer heist--I just don't get the cockiness. It's just absolutely ridiculous. Of course it's too early in the season, but considering that they lost rather easily to a Dirk-less Mavs and a rebuilding Portland team, I'd say it's a much more alarming predicament than the Laker Nation would like to believe.

Here are just some reasons why: Steve Nash can't play more than 30 minutes a game. Neither can he defend. His backup, Steve Blake, wouldn't make the cut in at least 20 other NBA teams... Pau Gasol is declining faster than Boris Diaw has been gaining weight. Just 3 years ago, he was arguably the most offensively polished big man in the league. Right now, he's not even in the same level as a 36-year old Tim Duncan... The only way this is gonna work for the Lakers is for Kobe to limit his touches and dump the ball inside to the bigs and let Nash run pick-and-rolls. Does anyone really think the most selfish player of all-time can do that?

OKC won't win the West

To say that I was surprised by the Harden trade is an understatement. OKC GM Sam Presti is well-respected in NBA circles but it still doesn't make much sense--the timing, at least. Why not try to win the title this year and then decide on Harden at the end of the season? I reckon that if they have the #1 seed in the West before the trade deadline, and the media keeps on pestering Harden about his future, he'll eventually sign an extension. If not, then they could've simply shopped him and got better value. The getting familiar with the system argument doesn't really hold because they traded him way after summer camp anyway.

Sure, they got decent players in return. Kevin Martin is a solid scorer but he's not the spark plug that Harden is off the bench. More importantly, it's a chemistry thing. Durant, Westbrook and Harden genuinely liked playing with each other. And chemistry is such a peculiar thing--it's not just a matter of other players filling in for Harden's stats.

LeBron will not be the GOAT

Bill Simmons recently wrote an article about LeBron possibly surpassing Michael Jordan as the greatest of all-time. Charles Barkley also made a similar statement recently. Of course, it's all too premature but let me quote Simmons himself on why any LBJ as GOAT argument must fail: 

"Michael Jordan would have wanted to kick Dwyane Wade's butt every spring, not play with him. This should be mentioned every day for the rest of LeBron's career. It's also the kryptonite for any 'Some day we'll remember LeBron James as the best basketball player ever' argument. We will not. Jordan and Russell were the greatest players of all time. Neither of them would have made the choice that LeBron did. That should tell you something."

Sure, LeBron will probably end up with more career points, rebounds and assists. He'll probably even surpass MJ's 5 MVPs. Heck, the 6 titles isn't totally out of the equation. But when we put things into perspective, remember the 2011 NBA Finals. Remember the 2010 East semis against Boston. Yes, he got over the hump but it doesn't erase those times when he quit. MJ lost to Larry's Boston Celtics and to Detroit's Bad Boys before finally winning his first title, but he never quit in any of those series.

For me, LeBron's ceiling is Kareem. Number 3 of all-time. Great career stats and individual accolades. But both never had Mike's aura of invincibility. Nor Bill Russell's "there's no effin' way my team is losing today" type of leadership.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Best Closer, Part Deux

Last 6 minutes of OKC@LAL WCSF G4

Kobe: 2/8 FG